Review by MantleNotMouse

"I used to hate sandbox crime games, then I met Niko Bellic"

To be completely honest, the only sandbox games I'd completed before this year involved Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. Despite playing each GTA installment between 3 and San Andreas, the small time crook storyline never held my attention. Well, that's before I met a man named Niko Bellic. What followed were several days dedicated to finishing the game, always eager to see what awaited me around each corner.

Story: You are Niko Bellic, an eastern European immigrant who comes to America to live with his cousin Roman, as well as tie up some loose ends from the “old country,” which never gets its true location revealed. Along the way, you'll meet many colorful characters; from the shark-testosterone shooting Brucie to the quick talking rasta named Little Jacob. One thing leads to another before Niko finds himself thrust into the Pegorino mob business, at odd with the feuding McCreary brothers, and always hunting for a past that has turned him into the killer he is today. Yes, okay, it sounds like common Grand Theft Auto fair. This, I'm not denying. However, the voice acting, the character movements, and the writing is superb and therefore, comes off as less cheesy and animated as its previous installments. The story writing for this game is amazing, and was honestly what held my interest for so long.
Story Rating: 9/10

Gameplay: Standard sandbox fare, with nothing truly innovated. That said, the old controls have been polished and they shine well in this title. Most people had trouble with the mundane task of driving, as did I when I first began. However, I felt that as I played more, the driving was more realistic and natural to me. The cover system was hit or miss, sometimes sticking me against the wrong wall and forcing me to get shot, repeatedly, as I attempted to correct the error. A lot of missions were failed due to this, but it's not a huge deal. The AI was sometimes dumb, with my partners being “lost” despite being 10 feet away and looking right at me. These minor flaws prevent the 10/10 score, but that's not to say that most of the game worked easily and wonderfully.

Gameplay Rating: 8/10

Graphics: Wow. That's what escaped from my mouth as I soared over Liberty City's version of Time's Square, towards the Brooklyn Bridge. I visited New York City when I was less than two years old and have never had the chance to go back. Naturally, I don't remember any of the trip. However, if New York and Liberty City are as close as everyone says they are, I think a return visit may be in order. The graphics aren't Gears of War-level detailed, knock-your-socks off. However, to be this close to a premiere game despite being a massive open world sandbox, it's an amazing feat. The city itself lives around you, with people running for umbrellas, or even newspapers, to cover their heads when it rains. It feels like this city is really moving on its own, unlike previous sandboxes where civilians were stoic and acted as if nothing in the world could affect them except for you. The character models are good enough, displaying emotion and looking respectable. I can't bring myself to dock this game any points here, though…because of how awe inspiring the view from above truly was.

Graphics Rating: 10/10

Sound: As I mentioned earlier, the voice acting is superb. From Niko right down to the annoying brat at Burger Shot greeting me with “Welcome to Burger Shot motha****er.” I simply can't stress enough how great the voice work in this game is. I was even impressed when, on a random visit to the comedy club, Katt Williams made a cameo. Also noteworthy are the radio stations, which play excellent music once more. A nice thing that I noticed was that during newsbreaks, I'd often find that events I'd just completed were being broadcast on the news as anchors discussed the rising crime in Liberty City. Oops, sorry citizens, haha.

Sound Rating: 10/10

Replay ability: I hate rating this for this game because, as with most sandboxes, you can keep playing after the story ends, but it gets really boring, really fast. I mean, there are plenty of side missions and achievements to strive for. 100% completion would take a long, long time. However, when all side quests are done and you have no single player achievements to strive for, it falls flat. Online modes aren't too bad, with deathmatch, racing, and Mafia Wars modes providing entertainment. However, my friends are too impatient to play a full Mafia Wars mode with me, despite it being my favorite MP mode. In it, you're given a set time and during it, you and your friends compete to see who can accomplish the given task first. One of the tasks I ran across involved stealing a car. My friend got to it first, but another friend and I ganged up and killed him before he got the chance to collect. It's a fun mode, if you can find the people to do it with.

Replay ability Rating: 7/10

Final Thoughts:
Amazing game. That's all I can really say. The complaints against the driving were valid, but like I said, you get used to it and adjust accordingly. Also, I've heard complaints about your friends calling you to hang out. But really, that only adds to the realism. I've got annoying friends that I avoid in real life, but as I ignored Brucie's calls in GTA IV. If you're looking for a long, enjoyable experience of loyalty, destruction, robbery, and breathtaking scenery, then GTA IV is a game you should most definitely look into. Be cautious, if you completely hate sandboxes, this isn't a revolutionary game that will change that. However, if you're willing to keep an open and interested mind, GTA IV might just surprise you, as it did me. That said, I'm going to go look into the downloadable content, because I don't want my GTA experience to be over just yet, seen?

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/02/09

Game Release: Grand Theft Auto IV (US, 04/29/08)

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